Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Soapbox post: The danger of payday loans like Wonga

You see the advert, cute little puppets of old ladies looking all adorable and welcoming. It might even remind you of your own grandparents and bring back the fond memories you have of visiting them, being fed large amounts of food and playing with their secret stash of toys. Somewhere subliminally you find yourself having positive feelings towards the advert because nothing bad ever came from those visits to see your grandma... sweet little ladies like that wouldn't hurt a fly. All along, you know in the front of your mind that you'd never actually use the product they're selling, you've heard rumours about how it can get really hard to manage and people have whispered stories in your ears over some poor person who started out with them and got into that thing people are starting to call "The Wonga Cycle." Besides, you budget and, although you're not exactly swimming in money, you have enough to get by. Short term loans are bad. You know that. You've been taught that. You won't make the mistake of using them... although the ads are rather endearing.

A couple of months later, you decide to take up a new job. It was the right decision to make, and you're glad you made it, but then you get that first paycheck and the money that you thought would turn out to be roughly the same amount as you were getting previously, turns out to be demonstrably less. You begin to panic a little. This wasn't what you were expecting. Not to mention Christmas is just around the corner, which means you have a plane ticket to buy so that you can spend it with your parents and even if you buy the cheapest possible present, you can't come empty handed. Then on top of everything, your phone bill comes in and it's almost double the amount you normally pay. You call and find out it had something to do with the previous month not being fully paid. You feel yourself start to slip, and you realise that the tight budget you have created is not designed to allow for any form of wiggle room. It's the second day of the month, all the bills have been direct debited out of your account and you have hardly anything left in there. The month ahead looms over you, threatening you with stresses that range from "Your friend's birthday night out is just around the corner, you can't cancel on her again" to "What are you going to do when you hit the third week and suddenly there's no more money for food?" Suddenly you can't see anything else other than these constant questions and they're bogging you down. You desperately search for some kind of way out, and then there it is... that memory of the cute little old women puppets talking about easy same-day loans...

You know it's a stupid thing to do. Nothing good ever comes from the payday loans. You've heard it from everyone your entire life. But you then begin to reason with yourself; maybe this company Wonga is different. It's too big a company for it to have debt collectors threatening to bust your kneecaps, and it wouldn't get the publicity it has got if it didn't look after its customers at least a little. It must be the exception to the rule, the payday loan company that cares... 

You let that idea settle in for a while, thinking about the possibilities involved in getting through the month if you had the money that they offered. And you wouldn't take a lot, just a tiny amount to get by. Then you can pay it back the following month when there aren't so many things that are demanding money from you. It sounds enticing. It really would solve every one of your current problems, but you put a pin in it, deciding that you will at least sleep on it before entering into anything. That night, you dream about starving to death whilst running around the house, opening every cupboard door and finding no food in there. You wake up with a start and decide that enough is enough. There really is no other way of looking at this, you will not financially last this month without help from somewhere. You sign up to Wonga before you can change your mind, work out the smallest amount that you would need, and apply for it. 

You can't quite believe your luck, 20 minutes later the money is in your account. You can eat again! You're so happy with the immediate high, you temporarily forget that this money will have to be paid back again the following month with an additional large amount of interest. You also forget that this money will need to be paid on the same wage that you received this month. Besides, that's something that future you can work out when the time comes...

You continue on with your month. You hit a few bumps in the road. There are a few expenses that turn out to be more expensive than you initially thought. You realise the one-off loan that you had taken out might not stretch to the next paycheck. You check the online Wonga account and notice that there's an option to add to your funds. Really? They do that for you? You can apply for more than one loan in a month? That seems overly generous. You conclude that Wonga has been given too much bad press in the past, they clearly are a lot kinder than others had thought. You work out another additional funding and apply. By this point, it's feeling almost drug like. The money arrives once more and you realise you don't have to struggle. You revel in the elated feeling that gives you. You last the month unscathed and having had enough food. 

The next paycheck arrives. It's a little larger than the one before, but not by much. This doesn't really matter however as the two loans taken out the previous month, plus the interest they've added on top, leaves a massive hole in your account. Suddenly you realise that you're in a worse state than you were last month. Now, you'd be lucky to pay the bills at all. You realise that the month has barely even started yet and, once the bills were out, you'd be overdrawn... without any form of overdraft facility. You're aware of the reason that you are in this mess. You know that it's because of the loan you took out with Wonga. Therefore you should never touch that company again... however, suddenly you find that you don't really have any other choice. You need far too much money to ask family and friends and, thanks to a mistake with 50p left on an old credit card and a house move which meant you didn't get any of their letters demanding that money, your credit rating is non existent, so no reputable bank or company would consider you for a decent loan. Suddenly you feel like you have no choice. You once again log onto the Wonga website and apply for another month's loan.

You don't fail to notice that, because you've had to apply for this loan a little earlier in the month this time, the interest is quite a bit higher. You panic a little at this as you realise that this really is going to mean you're going to struggle the following month, just the same. Then you begin to come up with a plan. You know that you're not going to be able to last a month at the moment without applying for a Wonga loan, but if you cut down even more of your expenses, stop all social interaction and find even cheaper food than before, perhaps you can start to wean your way off, applying for a little bit less money each month until you don't need it anymore.

You are feeling confident with your plan... especially as it's now officially the December month, so your being paid a little earlier than usual. You make a mental note to keep a hold of the money as long as you can, knowing that you've already bought Christmas presents in the previous month. Christmas comes and goes and you manage to save a little on food because you're back with your parents and they feed you for just over a week. You hit January and realise a flaw in your ultimate plan. January is a five week month... and due to the paycheck arriving earlier in December, the gap between December and January's pay is quite a bit larger. Suddenly you realise that, not only are you not going to be able to keep a strict low loan this month, you're actually going to have to get a bigger one than you had before. You panic slightly, but decide that there really is nothing else you can do and apply for more money. By the time the end of January arrives, your total amount is almost triple what you had used before. You begin to despair.

February hits and, this time, you need to apply for another loan before even your rent comes out. You think back longingly to that point when you first started taking this loan and the money troubles you had had then. They had seemed huge at the time, but now you would kill to have that back again. Somewhere in February you make a decision that enough is enough. You couldn't go on this way. You do a bit of research on the internet and find out about debt management plans. In addition to the Wonga loan, you have an old credit card that you haven't used in years and yet still are struggling to empty, due to the interest they are now charging you and the lack of things that you are able to do about it because of the afore mentioned credit rating. You decide that you really have no choice. The credit rating is never going to improve with both these payments still outstanding so you decide to sort it out once and for all. You call up a charity called Stepchange and feel relief fall over you as they take over your finance issues whilst simultaneously treating you like you're their best friend.

You sort everything out and begin the new plan. It feels amazing to have a manageable budget again. Things are still tight, but now you are back in control of the money and know exactly where it's going. You stop payments going out to both your credit card and Wonga and instead pay in more manageable sizes with Stepchange. You feel relief.

And then one day your bank account is almost empty again. You don't know how this happened. You make enquiries and see that Wonga, despite the fact they were informed you are on a debt management plan and therefore are no longer allowed to take the money out of your account, have gone ahead and done it anyway. You spend days on the phone with your bank asking for the money back. They refund you and begin inquiries with Wonga. You think that it was a low move, but are glad that at least it's over.

The following month another payment is taken out of your account by Wonga. You call your bank and Stepchange, and everything is reversed once more, even more restrictions having been put on your account to prevent any further payment being taken out. You begin to stress, annoyed that they've already been receiving payments via Stepchange and are still trying to take the full amount out of your account. You take solace in the fact that the bank have restricted any further payments from going out to an even further extent than they had the month prior.

Another month goes by and this time Wonga takes two individual payments out consecutively. You call your bank in tears this time, as once again you are completely broke. The bank explains that they had found a way around their restrictions and had taken the money anyway. You ask whether it's better off just cancelling your account and opening a new one, they inform you that it will delay Wonga from taking out a payment, but it won't stop them as they will eventually be able to break through. Thankfully your bank refunds the money for a third time but adds that this is going to be something you will have to do every month from now on. You call Stepchange and they listen as you stress and freak out, with that same awesome personality that makes them feel like your best friend. They get angry for you and explain that this is just the way Wonga works. That they will receive instructions to stop charging bank accounts, as well as receiving a payment each month from debt management programs, but will ignore all that and continue to take your money unlawfully.

You begin to despair of why you ever thought that they were some form of help. You realise that they are nothing but a company that takes delight in making money out of people who struggle with it. They provide  no investigations or support prior to giving money to people who can't afford to pay it back, instead they just reel you in and, once they have you, they show no mercy with any of your circumstances, as long as it means that they get all the money they can.

You send up a silent prayer of thanks that you are a stronger person than you were even a year ago; knowing that if this had happened then, there's no telling what the stress would have done to you. You think of those that aren't as emotionally strong as you are right now who are struggling with this company. You wonder how Wonga live with themselves. You vow to make sure the entire world knows just how ruthless they are and that, no matter how tough things get, it will only get tougher if people begin to apply for loans with them. So you decide to start off with a blog post, knowing that it would mean you were going to be more honest than you're comfortable with about your financial issues, but you also know that it's worth it because people need to know that this cute little company with the old puppet ladies that make them think of their grandmother is not as cute and friendly as they would have them think.

Then you wonder if you need to add your own thoughts about the issue after your story but realise there's no need; Wonga's actions have made the argument for you.

Peace out my lovelies. 

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